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Kankakee River – Latest National Waterway

By Don Mueggenborg 

It took a while, but the Kankakee has been named a National Waterway.

The process started about 10,000 years ago when the melting glacier broke through the moraines holding it back from Lake Erie (wasn’t called Lake Erie then). A wall of water surged forward, carving out a wide valley and leaving a great wetland.

The wetland attacked many forms of wildlife – called by some the “Everglades of the North.” Through this wetland flowed a river. The natives called it the Aukiki or Theatiki or Kankakee.

The river flowed through Indiana and Illinois. A beautiful stream, clear water.

In the 1600’s and 1700’s, Voyageurs used the river as a highway. LaSalle and Tonti used this river as a main route between Montreal and Mackinaw Island to the Illinois River. A short, flat portage at South Bend the only obstacle, it would have been a national waterway, but we had no nation. Later in Indiana, it would become a hunting favorite for Presidents and dignitaries from Europe. In Illinois, the backwaters housed bank robbers and horse thieves.

Now, another 100 years later, the Kankakee River has been named a National Waterway. Most of the channelized portions in Indiana have been taken over by nature. Wooded banks, beaver, fish, deer and a good river to paddle. In Illinois, where the river was not channelized, there are more bends, and a faster current.

Unlike some major rivers, the Kankakee does not flow through many major urban areas, so it is often tree lined and natural.

I have paddled sections of the Kankakee in Indiana and the length of the river in Illinois.

Fun, scenic with public access points close enough to make a pleasant trip. As the river flows into Illinois, the current increases. Immediately, the river bends and curves.

My favorite section is above Momence. A paddle to the state line and back might take three hours – but if you start at the state line (car shuttle), it is a fast, good trip. The river meanders and bends, and sand bars at the bends will take up ½ the river. Read the river and enjoy.

The most popular section is from Bird Park in Kankakee to Warner Bridge, Kankakee State Park. Canoes, tubers float past. Some river reading will keep your feet dry. Neat island and sandstone cliffs along the way.

You can paddle the whole length of the river in both Indiana and Illinois. There are frequent public access sites.

CAUTION: Some laws you should observe.

Momence – no canoes on the island (access on east side of island)

Kankakee – you cannot portage at the dam (portage at the park a block or so before the dam – river left)

Wilmington – you cannot portage the dam (run the mill race river right and then portage down the hill)

The Kankakee meets the Des Plaines at Dresden, and becomes the Illinois River.


Shortly after we started canoe racing, my friend Dave (Peanut Butter) heard about a race on the Kankakee in Indiana. No racing canoes.

We brought our Sawyer Cruiser and immediately saw that we were in a different class than most of the boats. Aluminum canoes with young men in their late teens and early twenties were our competition.

A local “Boys” club had bought a voyageur canoe and were hoping to raise some money to pay off the purchase. The young men were either part of the club or alumni.

A la mans start – run across the parking lot – left us way behind. Shortly after the start, a boat dumped. We helped them and their canoe to shore, paddled downstream, and returned with their paddles. And within twenty minutes or so, we had passed everyone.

We were actually embarrassed, but apparently the spectators were not. At each bridge, spectators asked my wife, our pit crew, if the “old men” had come by yet (we were in our 40s). We would wait around bends for the other canoes so we did not finish too far ahead.

The finish was under a bridge on a rural road. A flat grassy area at the take-out.

1st place was a cash prize – $100. I took it, gave it to Dave, who counted it and gave it to the race sponsor.


Several years later, there was a re-enactment at the Kankakee Marsh County Park.

Things had changed – that rural road and grassy spot was now a nice county spot in the restored wetlands. Way to go, Indiana!

I saw a Park Ranger – a young man. “Years ago, there was a race on the river that ended here. Do they still have the race?” I asked.

The ranger replied. “We only held it one year and two old guys whipped us good!”

Then he added – “You’re one of them!”

And I felt good, not that he recognized me, but that one of the boys was now working as a park ranger to help preserve the river and wetlands, and that the state and county were working to preserve the area for the future.


2016 Des Plaines River Marathon Participants to Support Chicago Voyagers

By Jack Snarr, Marathon Co-Chair


For each of the past several years, the Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon has identified an accessory tax exempt 501(c)(3) organization with related interest in paddlesport and/or the preservation and recreational potential of the Des Plaines River. Marathon registrants have been encouraged to supplement their $22 registration fee with an additional $3 (or more) to benefit the designated organization. Included have been the Upper Des Plaines River Ecological Partnership, the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services of Lake County, Openlands, the IPC Paddlers’ Patrol and Water TrailKeepers Programs, and Prairie Rivers Network. Each organization has thereby received a several hundred dollar contribution from Marathon participants.

Inspired this year by Bob Faber’s presentation at the 2015 IPC Annual Banquet/Meeting of the Chicago Voyagers (CV) Organization, the Marathon has identified CV as the 2016 target of these donations. Chicago Voyagers uses the outdoors as a tool to quickly and effectively impact inner city, at-risk youth. Engaging youth in activities such as canoeing (lake, river, wilderness and whitewater), camping, and environmental stewardship teaches them the importance of teamwork, of acting responsibly, and of communicating respectfully. It is hoped that such life lessons will empower the youth to stay in school, avoid unhealthy behaviors, and create a better future for themselves.

Moreover, the Voyagers are being encouraged to participate in the foreshortened, 5.25 mile Minithon option of the 2016 Marathon. To learn more about the organization, please take a moment to review their website for further insight at www.chicagovoyagers.org. Naturally, the Voyagers would welcome the volunteer assistance of individuals or paddling clubs in the enactment of their programs!

Long Distance Paddling Events



If the 18.5 miles of the Des Plaines Marathon (May 22 this year) are not long enough for you – participate in one of these events to test your stamina – or at least, be astonished that some paddlers can do this.

Friday, April 22 – to Sunday, April 24 – CAMPUS TO COAST – www.msuoc.org/c2c/ 

Starting in Wonch Park, Okemos, MI and ending in Grand Haven on the edge of Lake Michigan.  Campus to Coast (C2C160) is a paddle sport adventure race put on by the Michigan State University Outdoors Club. The race starts on MSU’s campus at the Rock (central part of campus), following the Red Cedar River into the Grand River and out through Grand Haven, finishing at Grand Haven State Park. The race is approximately 160 miles, with estimations of the fastest times being anywhere from 26-40 hours, depending on the river conditions, and 57 hours being the cut-off time. This race also contains 7 portages, along with one section where racers must “canoe line” a small section of fall over dams.  This race can only be competed in using kayaks, canoes, or a vessel that is strictly “man powered.”  Participants are from all over the U.S., as well as other BIG 10 Universities.

Saturday, June 11 – Texas Water Safari – http://www.texaswatersafari.org/

Described as the World’s Toughest Canoe RaceThe Safari is an annual race via the San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers, from Aquarena Springs in the college town of San Marcos, to the shrimping village of Seadrift on the Texas coastline, a total distance of 260 miles. The first official race was held in 1963, and is run annually on the second Saturday of June.  It actually has a series of events – so be sure to check the calendar page for more details http://www.texaswatersafari.org/calendar/

Wednesday, June 29 – to Sunday, July 3 – Yukon River Quest – http://www.yukonriverquest.com/

Described as the “Race to the Midnight Sun,” this 444-mile wilderness adventure paddling race is held on the Yukon River, from Whitehorse to Dawson City, in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Held during the last week of June, the YRQ is the world’s longest annual canoe and kayak race. Paddlers race round-the-clock under a sky that never gets dark. There are just two mandatory rest stops – totaling 10 hours – over the course of the entire event. The Yukon River Quest draws participants from all over the world. In 2015, 57 teams from 12 countries started the race and 44 teams finished.

Saturday, July 30 – AuSable River Canoe Marathon – www.ausablecanoemarathon.org/

This is a non-stop canoe race that starts at night with a thrilling running-start to the river in Grayling, MI, and ends 120 miles later near the shores of Lake Huron in Oscoda, MI.  Contestants must navigate the narrow, winding upper stretch in total darkness, as well as stump-filled ponds and the blazing July sun in the lower stretch.  This race is not a recreational canoe float, but a professional, ultra-competitive race with the very best professional paddlers from around North and Central America. Before planning to participate, check the website for more details – this is not for beginners.

From one participant:

Throughout my life I have been a waterman. I have snorkeled, done scuba diving, fishing, rec. canoeing, surfing. When I started training for racing I had finally found a way that I could tie my love for the water in with mastering an artful craft. A race canoe is something that you can master. There is so much technique and skill involved you can always be improving. The AuSable Marathon is the ultimate proving ground for your hard work and dedication. You don’t have to be a top ten paddler to be a master of your boat. By L.j. Bourgeois      

For more AuSable Marathon pics, info, and videos:



Check each website for more information, pictures, and if you know of any other North American long distance paddling races, let us know and we’ll add them to the list.

Ralph Frese Memorial Paddle

Sat, April 9, 9 AM

Ralph Frese
Ralph Frese

Willow Road Dam, Winnetka

Experienced paddlers, bring your canoe or kayak and celebrate the legacy of canoe legend Ralph Frese by paddling down the Chicago River from Willow Road Dam to Linne Woods in Morton Grove. A shuttle bus will be provided and will run from 8 am to 2 pm from Linne Woods (Dempster St and Ferris Ave) to Willow Road Dam. The event is free and concludes with a celebration at Linne Woods where refreshments will be served.

For more information call 312-533-5751.

Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ralph-frese-memorial-paddle-tickets-21462682461.

Cost: Free


Save the Date to Paddle The 59th Annual Des Plaines Canoe & Kayak Marathon And Minithon


dprm logoMay 22, 2016

More picnics are spoiled by weather reports than by the weather, wrote Don Mueggenborg (who has paddled every event but one since its starting) after last year’s event. Forecasts had everyone concerned – rain, high winds, lightning. Instead we had a great day. Overcast early with a slight mist and headwinds to cool the paddlers down.

More than seven hundred paddlers participated in 2015, including 37 in the shorter Minithon, with several SUPs finishing the whole course. Most paddlers came from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, but also from as far as Arizona, Florida, Nebraska and Texas. Everyone who finished the course received the coveted embroidered patch. New in 2015 was also the inclusion of the Des Plaines River map on the back of the t- shirts that brought many congratulatory comments, and will be on this year’s t-shirts as well.

The Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon, founded in 1958 by Ralph Frese, is the second oldest continually held paddling competition in the United States. The course is 18½ miles on the beautiful and historic Des Plaines River in Northern Illinois. Numerous classes accommodate people of all ages, crafts, and skill levels, and a 5.25 mile, non-competitive Minithon offers a shorter option. First time participants, repeat paddlers, and serious competitors can all enjoy the excitement, challenge, and wonderful scenery that this historic event provides. Great music, good food, and camaraderie await everyone at the finish line.

Registration opens March 1 – early bird discount until April 15

For more details check out www.canoemarathon.com



Des Plaines River Marathon - at the put in
Photo by Rich Hodgkins

McHenry County Conservation District’s Paddle in the Park

Saturday, May 14, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.

Paddle in Park 3
Photo credit: Weg Thomas

The Hollows Conservation Area
3804 US Highway 14 in Cary, IL

McHenry County Conservation District will be hosting its 8th annual Paddle in the Park. Please help spread the word, or volunteer to help us with the event.

Test the waters, dip a paddle in the crystal clear waters of Lake Atwood, and discover the joy of canoeing, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding at Paddle in the Park: Saturday, May 14, from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. at The Hollows Conservation Area, 3804 US Highway 14 in Cary.

Hosted by McHenry County Conservation District, this event is a great opportunity for beginners to get introduced to the sport, or for experienced paddlers to pick up information on local outings and outfitters. “McHenry County residents have access to many nearby waterways, and our hope is that we can get individuals and families to take their next outdoor adventure on the water,” said Communications Manager Wendy Kummerer.

Entry to the event is free, and for a onetime workshop fee of $5, visitors can test-paddle a variety of water vessels and participate in a beginning canoe paddling clinic offered at 10:30 a.m. and Noon, beginning kayak paddling clinics at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., solo canoe paddling clinic at 1:00 p.m.; stand up paddle board clinics will be ongoing throughout the day at the L.L. Bean booth. A demonstration of canoe rescue techniques will be offered at 2:30 p.m. Visitors will also discover the importance of the canoe in early American settlement, exploration, and the fur trade industry. The Southwest Brigade, historical interpreters, will demonstrate a voyageur canoe. Representatives from the American Canoe Association will be present to teach solo canoeing, canoes rescue techniques, and workshops: “How to Be a Well-Dressed Paddler” and/or “Assessing Risk: Live to Paddle Another Day.”

“Not only is canoeing or kayaking fun, but a great opportunity to get closer to nature,” said Event Coordinator Andy Tally. “In a canoe or kayak, you have access to more intimate waters. That can bring you closer to wildlife than any other form of transportation.”

Local vendors will be on hand to discuss the different types of watercrafts available and which type might best suit you or your family’s needs. A number of canoeing resources will be available, such as information on where to paddle, where to get lessons, clubs to join, local outfitters and rentals, and details on local river trips and Midwest excursions. We will also feature music by award-winning singer/songwriter/canoe enthusiast, Jerry Vandiver. Jerry has song credits on over 15 million records and two of his titles are hanging in the Country Music Hall of Fame. There will also be food for sale by MJ’s Coffee Bar.

Participants this year will include the American Canoe Association, the US Coast Guard Auxiliary; local canoe and kayak clubs such as Prairie State Canoeists, Illinois Paddling Council, and Southwest Brigade; plus retailers, including L.L. Bean and Erehwon Mountain Outfitters.

Registration is not required. For more information, call Prairieview Education Center, (815) 479-5779 or visit www.MCCDistrict.org.

We are also seeking volunteers to assist as safety paddlers, or to assist with instructional clinics. If you would like to volunteer, please contact Andy Talley at (815) 479-5779 ext 14.




A Jewel on the south side has finally been discovered

By Michael Taylor

No motor boats, no barges, and deep enough not to scratch the bottom of your boat.  Finally the secret of a beautiful flowing river in the southern suburbs of Chicago has been rediscovered.  In the fall of 2015, the Cook County Forest Preserve opened a new boat ramp along the Little Calumet River at the Kickapoo Woods Forest Preserves.  The immediate feedback from paddlers and novice alike was that it is a perfect venue.  Kickapoo Woods offers plenty of parking in a safe, well-lit area for paddlers to enjoy.  Not only does the new launch site offer easy, safe access to the river, but the location along the shallow portion of the Upper Little Calumet River makes it a perfect place for beginner and intermediate paddlers.  Meander is the perfect verb and noun describing the paddling experience on this section of the river.  The river bends and curves, and on most days, the river’s flow is calm enough to offer a gentle riding experience in the great outdoors.

Join the coalition of outdoor enthusiasts and community organizations in not only a river clean up, but an introduction to both canoeing and kayaking on this gem in the southern suburbs. Saturday morning, June 4 2016, is the day of the “Little Calumet River Day at Kickapoo Woods;” please join us on exploring this secret south side treasure.

Winter Paddling Inspiration

Need some inspiration for winter paddling, or at least a little reminder of the advantages? Check out this article about winter paddling from The Southern Illinoisan: http://thesouthern.com/lifestyles/magazine/recreation/kayaking-a-great-way-to-relieve-the-stress-of-a/article_23d46c03-7021-58de-bb25-e81b8e454374.html

Although it’s focused on winter paddling in the warmer end of the state (i.e., Southern Illinois), the images evoked and tips provided are applicable state-wide. Though you might want to check out Paul Klonowski’s article on cold weather paddling in this TIP before heading out.


We already have dates for some races; we’ll keep you updated on those still tentative

May 1 Current Buster* – Started in 1974 and hosted by the St. Charles Canoe Club on the Fox River, distance 10 miles. www.stcharlescanoeclub.com

May 22Des Plaines Canoe & Kayak Marathon* – Started in 1957 by Ralph Frese, Mr. Canoe – second oldest one day paddling event in the nation. 18.5 mile marathon, and 5.25 minithon, from Libertyville, it ends 18.5 miles south at Dam #2 in Mt. Prospect. Sponsored by the Des Plaines River Association. www.canoemarathon.com

Des Plaines Canoe & Kayak Marathon

May 28Abe’s River Race – Started in 2014 on the historic Lincoln Heritage Water Trail in Central Illinois and hosted by the Lincoln Heritage Water Trail Association. Point-to-point on the Sangamon River, from Irwin Bridge to Lincoln’s Riverside Park in Petersburg. www.lincolnheritagewatertrail.org/race.html

June 5Mid American Race – Began in 1960 on the Fox river, from St. Mary’s Park in St. Charles to McCullough Park in Aurora – about 11 miles. Sponsored by the Fox Valley Park District.   www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org

LATE JUNE Voyageur Landing Race* – First event held in 2001, organized by Kevin Bradley and Larry Steffens. Held on the Fox River north of Elgin in the Voyageurs Landing Forest Preserve, distance 8 miles. kaab610@aol.com

MID JULYThe Five State Challenge – Spring Green to Muscoda, the Big Five Challenge comprises all the race classes in the 21- and 15-mile courses, wherein paddlers earn points for their state by placing in their class. www.wicanoeracing.com

July 16Illinois Whitewater Festival & Buttercup Slalom Series – Buttercup Series Slalom Event. Held at the Marge Cline WW Course in Yorkville. Plus Yorkville Rib Fest featuring great food, spirits, and live music. Chicago Whitewater Association.  www.facebook.com/WhitewaterFestival

August 7Pecatonica River Water Trail Canoe/Kayak Race* – First held in 2008, the 18.2 mile race starts at Browntown, Wi. The 6.7 mile recreational race starts at Brewster’s Landing. Both races start at 10am and end at McConnell Bobtown Landing. www.pecriver.org

August 11 – 14 USCA National Canoe & Kayak Championships, Northfield, MA – www.uscanoe.com

SEPT Joe Kowsky Memorial Race (I &M and DuPage)* – Started in 1999 and sponsored by the Morris Marathon Canoe Club, held in Channahon on the DuPage River where the I&M Canal cuts diagonally across it – about 7 miles. buckley.david@gmail.com

September 17 – 5th Annual Quincy 5 Miler – This is an open water race that includes portions near the main channel of the Mississippi River and “The Cut” from the main river back to Quincy Bay. The race takes paddlers from the start located in an approximate line even with the Knapheide Landing Boat Ramp, then past the south end of Hogback Island, over four wing dams. Then, to the north end of “The Cut” channel that leads into Quincy Bay. After paddling thru the Quincy Bay, the course will once again be in the main river, goes under the Quincy Bayview Bridge and the Quincy Memorial Bridge. The race will then conclude at the historic South Side Boat Club. http://quincy5miler.com/

Quincy 5 Miler & Bear Creek Grunt Race Flyer

September 18Vic Hopp Memorial Race* – Began in 1975 on the Fox River, then moved to the Des Plaines River in Wheeling, held in memory of Vic Hopp with proceeds donated to cancer research. Total 9 miles: 4 ½ miles upstream to Deerfield Road and 4 ½ downstream to finish. Jim Peterson akpcpa@yahoo.com

Sept 25 – tentative – Fox River Fall Classic* – Began in 2008 and hosted by the St. Charles Canoe Club. On the Fox River, it starts and finishes at the Ferson Creek Park (off RT31) north of St. Charles. Nine miles – www.stcharlescanoeclub.com

*Denotes an IPC Points Race to qualify for awards at the annual banquet

Please send any announcements about competitive events to be included in our events calendar to